A recent report about the state of Black women in tech entrepreneurship found that only 0.2 percent of all U.S. venture capital deals from 2012 to 2014 went to Black women, despite the fact that they founded 1.5 million businesses and are the quickest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the nation. Black women founders also received just $36,000 on average in funding, while the average failed startup raised $41 million.
This massive gap highlights the need for culturally-focused startup hubs like Black Dot, a new resource center for Black entrepreneurs in Seattle’s Central District.
Black Dot co-founders K. Wyking Garrett, Aramis Hamer, Monica Washington, and Mujale Chisebuka seek to change these statistics. They strive to get more youth in the Central District interested in entrepreneurship while providing Black entrepreneurs with the necessary resources to successfully start or maintain their businesses via panels, networking events, and the option to use Black Dot as a co-working space.
“We look forward to kind of being like a greenhouse for economic sustainability in this community — we are a seed,” Garrett said. “The dot is a seed.”
The idea for Black Dot came about after the founders attended a Startup Weekend event called Hack the Central District. At the hackathon, Hamer and Washington created the idea for Heart Haven, which, similar to Black Dot, would provide the space for artists to connect and create. At the same time, Garrett created Africatown, a website and app that serves as a mechanism of discovery of the Central District.
After the event, they realized the community needed more than just one weekend a year to create and innovate new ideas. Working with David Harris, a startup advocate for Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, the entrepreneurs agreed that there should be a place that would provide a way for artists and innovators of all kinds to meet and develop ideas that benefit everyone in their community.
Thus, Black Dot was born.
Keeping the spirit of innovation alive
One key aspect of Black Dot is its physical location at the heart of the Central District on 23rd and Union. The corner has held historical importance for decades as a center for the African American community, but now a bevy of construction projects line the streets and existing businesses in the area have been struggling to stay open.
“It’s ground zero of gentrification,” Garrett noted.
Garrett has lived in the Central District his entire life and worries about the future of the neighborhood. The pattern of gentrification around Seattle has set a discouraging precedent, he said.
“You see buildings going up and you don’t see businesses that reflect the Black community that has been here for over 130 years,” Garrett said.
There is a long history of innovation born within the Central District community. It’s a place where people like Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix started their careers.
Garrett wants that spirit of innovation to remain alive and well in the neighborhood, despite all the changes. He said that the “legacy of resilience is why Black people are still here.”
“We wanted to make sure we connected and tapped that energy so this community can have a future in Seattle and not be totally displaced by the changes in the economic environment that is disenfranchising so many,” he explained.
Before opening Black Dot’s doors, Hamer set up a chalkboard mural on the corner of 23rd and Union and asked people to answer three questions: What they think of this corner, what they feel on this corner, and what they dream of this corner becoming.
A common answer for the third question: A mecca for successful Black businesses.
“Having us here is actually the perfect manifestation of what the people who are present in this community want to see in this space,” Hamer said. “So it just feels good all the way around, knowing that Black Dot is here.”
Moving forward, Black Dot will work to grow their membership pool and continue connecting and educating entrepreneurs. They will be hosting more events in the space like startup bootcamps and invite successful entrepreneurs in a variety of industries to come speak.
Programming Black Dot is supported by partners including Hack Nation, Umoja PEACE Center, Africatown, Black Community Impact Alliance, Seattle U, OED, Google, Add3, Madrona Venture Labs, Tech Stars, PACE and more. Much of their furniture was donated from WeWork and Lucid Lounge. Their business model is centered around a monthly fee paid by members, which come from a variety of industries and include techies and artists alike.
Garrett said the goal is to connect entrepreneurs of all types so that “everybody wins.”
“Black Dot and spaces like this are absolutely critical to the city’s goals around shared prosperity, social justice, and equitable development,” Garrett said. “Creating a world class city should be reflective of the world that we live in and we think that the work here helps us get to that place.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated in regard to Black Dot’s supporting partners.